March of Time was one of the pivotal programs that created radio's golden age. They could not know it at the time, but the program would have a critical role in development of radio's top talent and best practice production methods. The talent and the processes would play essential roles in radio and other media for decades to come. Another key series in radio's history was Columbia Workshop. Many of the actors and personnel that would be guides and performers in radio's growing influence in daily life had assignments in both series at various times in their young careers.
March of Time dramatized news events and was a top-rated and most memorable series. It was sponsored by Time Inc., publishers of Time Magazine, and was broadcast from 1931 to 1945. The series inspired the March of Time newsreels that were shown in movie theaters from 1935 to 1951. These newsreels were often the only times that the general public could see and hear world leaders outside of still photos in newspapers. The radio program allowed the audience to hear the newsmakers, but... it was radio actors imitating them.
Orson Welles first appeared on radio in March of Time, hired by future prominent radio producer William Spier. Spier was working in various production roles on the show. Most of the actors in the yet-to-be-formed Mercury Theater were in March of Time's ensemble cast. Among the actors in March of Time productions were...
Art Carney (a great radio supporting player, but more famous as “Norton” on TV’s Honeymooners) and Staats Cotsworth (Casey, Crime Photographer) would imitate FDR.
Ted de Corsia imitated Herber Hoover and Benito Mussolini
Bill Johnstone (“The Shadow” after Welles left the role, and one of radio's busiest actors) played Edward VIII
Nancy Kelly (who would become a movie star and had multiple appearances on Suspense), Agnes Moorehead (who would become famous for “Sorry, Wrong Number” on Suspense), and Jeanette Nolan, all imitated Eleanor Roosevelt
Maurice Tarplin (later to become The Mysterious Traveler) imitated Winston Churchill
Peter Donald imitated Neville Chamberlain
Other future radio stars on the program were Harry Von Zell, Karl Swenson, Everett Sloane, Elliott Reid, Frank Readick, Arnold Moss, John McIntire, Leon Janney, Kenny Delmar, and many others.
Unfortunately, very few recordings of this important series have survived. Indeed, many of the broadcasts may never have been recorded at all. But along with Columbia Workshop, the ripples of March of Time's success and innovations were felt for decades later through the talent and techniques it developed, as well as the numerous collegial and business relationships that had their start in its production rooms and in its performance studios.
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These recordings are part of the Joe Hehn Memorial Collection. Mr. Hehn (1931-2020) was a pioneering collector of radio recordings when the hobby emerged in the 1960s. Digitizing his collection of reel tapes and discs is the effort of a wide range of North American volunteers, and includes assistance of some international collectors. The groups supporting this effort with their funds, time, technology and skills are the Old Time Radio Researchers and a small group of transcription disc preservationists who refer to themselves as the "The Knights of the Turning Table."